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Five Years Ago

(August 11, 2006)

Human Inventory Measurement

What did the Employed Industrial Psychologist ask the Unemployed Industrial Psychologist?...Would you like fries with that?

We've been puzzling out the pieces of the assessment marketplace and decided that the largest single problem has to do with Industrial Psychology. If you have a Recruiting Department of any size, you've heard the pitch. "Only scientifically vetted, norms based assessment approaches have any statistical validity". This is code for "only some products pass the EEO legal defensibility criteria". It specifically doesn't mean that norms based assessment works or that other methods do not.

It's an incredible jumble of contradictory jargon at a time that requires a meaningful approach to Human Inventory Measurement.

The real flaw in most assessment systems is the lack of performance feedback from the line managers who use them. In other words, no one knows whether or not scientific, norms based assessment systems work to improve corporate performance. They just know that the EEO can't sue of you use them.

In less legally constrained environments, the definition of assessment is much broader. We see a broad range of tools used for assessment purposes that range from skills certification on the one extreme to soft skills management on the other. (Although it fails the scientific test, the Meyers-Briggs Inventory is widely used by second tier Organizational Development Companies.) The coming of age processes (rites of passage) in many organizations amount to an assessment process. Although no one has meaningfully validated those 360 degree feedback thingies, many employees are submitted to the harsh reality of this T-Group in a box approach. Some companies insist that all managers be able to pass the "fire-walking" component of a Tony Robbins course. Others force feed motivational tidbits til a sane person would belch. It seems like many things passed off as "training" are actually thinly veiled assessment tools (How much can they take?)

Broadened beyond the tiny hunks of definition that have been useful for early stage eRecruting companies and old school Industrial Psychology firms, the array of tools used to measure Human Inventory is pretty amazing. Certainly cultural rigors (is she willing to fit into the blue suit?) are the least understood and most widely encountered. At its crudest, the question is: Is this a square or round peg? More subtly, the procedures study implications beyond the understanding of most line managers.

People are complex while most assessment procedures address a simple slice. The individual is important. Her interactions with the team and the environment are more so. Although the modelling of team behavior is feasible, it hasn't emerged as a usable tool just yet. The company that wants to use assessment is faced with a sea of self serving Industrial Psychologists who only know that their company's product is somehow the best. No one offers a simple "this works for this that works for that" assessment of the assessment industry. This is in spite of the fact that it is patently obvious that hard skills are more important for a company like Boeing while soft skills are the thing for a marketing company.

We think that you might be able to describe all of the possibilities in a three dimensional matrix. On one axis you'd have hard skills at one end and soft skills at the other. Legal liability or defensibility might be the second axis (from high to low). Individual versus team measurement could be the third dimension.

We think the matrix offers a way to categorize both assessment tools and the market segments they're relevant in. In other words, you can map products and customers into the same grids. A company's technical orientation probably defines its needs on the skills dimension. The degree to which product or service liability (or pure size in the case of EEO regulations) determines placement on the legal axis. The degree to which the company delivers products versus projects would be the final question.

It's sketchy and uncertain but a beginning of a method for categorizing the broad array of tools with which we measure human inventory. Once categorized, assessment tools themselves can be assessed for their relative worth to companies that match specifically as well as potential customers at other places in the matrix.

It's the kind of work that's required to move assessment from the backwaters of a fractured market to the vibrant marketplace that it ought to become.

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John Sumser © TwoColorHat. All Rights Reserved.
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